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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Category: metrosexual (page 1 of 33)

In Defence of Male Tartiness (Again)

Mark Simpson on how metrosexuality is now part of masculinity’s ‘gayish DNA’

The lights have gone off at Instagram and YouTube. Men’s Health has folded. The male grooming market valued at $50B globally until just last week has imploded. Those reports about how men are now spending more time and money clothes shopping than women can be binned. Tumbleweed is blowing around the 272 new gyms that opened in the UK last year. Tinder is totally toast.

Most apocalyptically of all, young men are putting their shirts back on and Love Island has been cancelled.

Or so you might be forgiven for thinking if you read Martin Daubney’s piece last week in Telegraph Men about the findings of a study into masculinity he helped organise. ‘We can say confidently’, he said, confidently, ‘that British men in 2017 are increasingly abandoning narcissism, the perfect body and promiscuity’.

Apparently, instead of being selfie-admiring, ‘vain’, ‘shallow’, ‘dopey metrosexuals’, today’s men are now looking for ‘greater depth and meaning’ and emphasising ‘traditional’ and ‘moral values’, including marriage.

In other words, men have – finally! – stopped being so bloody gay.

Male vanity’s death sentence was supposedly delivered in Harry’s Masculinity Report, sponsored by and named after an American male grooming company that is, well, muscling in on the lucrative UK male vanity market. But Harry’s you see is a straight-acting all-American grooming company. On their website they boast that they make ‘a high-quality shave that’s made by real guys for real guys’. Sweet!

Of course, as a big ol’ homo and the ‘daddy’ of the metrosexual and his ‘shredded’, under-dressed younger ‘bro’, the spornosexual, I’m a tad over-invested in male prettiness – even if I don’t always invest enough in my own. But I really don’t see much evidence for the demise of male self-reflexivity and image-consciousness. Except perhaps in the popularity of man-buns. (No one could wear one of those and own a mirror.)

I suspect what we have here is more a case of wishful/murderous thinking. The report seems to me to have found the ‘traditional’ values and morality it was looking for.

Were the guys surveyed ‘real guys’, like the guys at Harry? Well it seems they were simply the first 2000 men aged between 18-85 living in the British Isles who completed a lengthy online questionnaire. It was promoted in male-related online forums and ‘to ensure broad UK reach across all demographics, the survey was also promoted by Martin Daubney.’

Martin, a high-profile, right-of-centre, white, male, heterosexual, married journalist, indefatigable campaigner around men’s issues and ‘porn addiction’ – and infuriatingly likeable chap – has 17K followers on Twitter. It would be unfair to call this Daubney’s Masculinity Report, but we should at least wonder how much Martin is inadvertently admiring his own reflection in it.

It’s difficult to tell though – the ‘men’ in this study are rather opaque. Monolithic, even. There’s an age and marital status breakdown, which seems fairly representative, but no information about their ethnicity, their sexuality, political affiliation or their class/occupation. Though the fact that nearly half of them were from London and the South East (there is a regional breakdown) might be a bit of a clue as to the latter.

There are 35 ‘core values’ options listed in the questionnaire. The first four are: ‘Dependable, ‘Reliable’, ‘Loyal’, ‘Committed’, and the 7th is ‘Honest’.

The top five rated by respondents were, in order: ‘Honest’, ‘Reliable’, ‘Dependable’, ‘Loyal’, ‘Committed’.

‘Helpful’ isn’t in the list, but I suppose that’s implicit in the answers.

‘Fit’ and ‘athletic’, the only two options in the list of ‘core values’ that aren’t moral values appear at 21 and 22 and were rated by respondents at 31 and 35. Though perhaps the ratings for them should have been added together, as I’m not sure what the difference is between ‘fit’ and ‘athletic’. Both arouse me.

It’s great that men want to be, as they say in their online dating profiles, ‘100% gen’. Or seen as that. But I’m not sure how that shows they’ve abandoned the gym and their own reflection.

As for the evidence of men ‘abandoning promiscuity’ – the questionnaire doesn’t have anything to say, or ask, about ‘promiscuity’, or for that matter, monogamy. Unless of course you think that valuing honesty, reliability, dependability, loyalty and commitment is necessarily incompatible with having sex with more than one person.  Or rather, sex with more people than you – probably the most accurate definition of ‘promiscuous’.

The trad-dad moralising thrust of all this becomes evident in the ‘main lessons from this survey’ section we are told the factors found to be associated with men’s ‘mental positivity’ are ‘good job satisfaction’, ‘stable relationship’, ‘living up to their roles as men’, ‘more connected to a sense of spirituality’ and ‘engage in sports’ – that’s manly team sports, I’m guessing, not posing around the gym like a tart.

I’m sure this is all well-intentioned. But it does sound a shade School Speech Day, c.1956. Especially the ‘living up to their roles as men’ bit.

I can understand why report’s authors want to ‘detoxify’ the ‘brand’ of masculinity (this ‘core values’ shtick is mostly used in a corporate context) and offer some ‘good news’ about men that goes against the bad news grain. And think it’s great that the oft-neglected issue of men’s mental health is being addressed and men’s intimate preoccupations are being probed.

But re-stigmatising the hard won right of men of whatever sexuality to be pretty and ‘gay’ isn’t going to help. I mean, really? No gym. No porn. No Tinder. No preening. This is supposed to reduce male suicide?

Male narcissism has added enormously to the gaiety of the nation. It should be celebrated as a Great British tradition, from Byron to Bowie to Beckham to Bromans. Puritanical Yankee grooming go home. What’s more the acceptance of it has made homophobia less acceptable. Non-gay men today, particularly younger men for whom metrosexuality is just ‘normal’, are much less hard on The Gays than their fathers were because they are less hard on themselves.

Being soft on yourself is surely the key to being soft on others.

Most men are not going to dedicate themselves to becoming a Men’s Health cover model, thank the baby Jesu. Apart from anything else, if they did I’d never be able to get on the squat rack at 5pm. But metrosexuality, love it or loathe it, is part of masculinity’s gayish DNA now. It’s far too late to straighten it out.

And even if you could, you’d just cause a global economic catastrophe, like the terrifying End of Days one envisioned at the beginning of this article.

 

How ‘I’m Too Sexy’ Foretold The All-Too Sexy Future

by Mark Simpson 

1991’s big, busty novelty hit ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was as zeitgeisty and bitchily funny as it was ear-wormingly annoying.

I remember it playing everywhere in London that summer: builders’ vans, barber’s shops, caffs, pubs, nightclubs, funeral parlours. OK, I didn’t actually hear it in funeral parlours but I’m sure that even the dead didn’t escape it’s strutting beat and croaking vocal. A perfect trashy radio song for a then still trashy London that was, back then, all mouth and no trousers. Of course, today it’s all oligarch trousers and hipster mouth.

Cruelly, Right Said Fred – who were all leather trousers – saw their cheeky, giggly song about self-love cheated of the No.1 spot in the UK. They were pinned down at No.2 for six weeks by Bryan Adam’s heavyweight paean to his own altruism: ‘Everything I Do I Do It For You’. A ballad to end all ballads which selflessly hogged the top spot for sixteen weeks that felt like years of Canadian winter.

‘I’m Too Sexy’ was the camp, saucy music-hall dance pop counterpoint to the naff north American mawkishness of EIDIDIFY. Though in truth we Brits deserved Mr Adam as much as anyone could deserve that fate: the UK pop music scene, like the UK economy, was in a right post-80s, post acid-house state. Right Said Fred were the only living British act in the top five top-selling UK singles that year. At No.1 was EIDIDIFY (natch), No.2 a reissue of Queen’s 1975 hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (after Freddie Mercury’s death that year from Aids-related illness), at No.3 Cher’s ‘It’s in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)’, at No.4 ‘I’m Too Sexy’, and at No.5 ‘Do The Bartman’ by The Simpsons.

Even a cartoon American managed to sell sold more records in the UK that year than any British act that wasn’t wearing just leather trousers. Britpop, which got underway a couple of years later, in large part as a reaction to a US-dominated UK hit parade, was of course all about cartoon Mancunians.

Right Said Fred are back in the news after Taylor Swift’s recent acknowledged use of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ baseline in her latest single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. Everyone it seems likes a bit of ‘I’m Too Sexy’: the Guardian, along with many others, recently ran an interview with Richard Fairbrass, lead singer (middle in photo) about the hit.

There’s some interesting background: I didn’t realise that it got to No.1 in the US (in 1992). I also enjoyed the anecdote Richard Fairbrass relates: ‘In Texas, there was a fight in a bar because some girls played the video for eight hours, and when a guy tried to turn it off, they attacked him.’ I wonder though whether after eight hours of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ anyone would have been capable of doing much more than drooling insensately. I also didn’t realise Right Said Fred were still performing and recording.

But it was the (slightly edited) pull-quote at the top of the article that grabbed my attention.

‘Everyone thought we were sad gym queens… but we were proper musicians’

Now, I have nothing to say about the Fairbrass brothers’ musical prowess. But I do want to mention that out bisexual Richard and his slightly shorter straight brother Fred (left in the pic and on guitar in the vid) were gym queens, and as Richard mentions in the article, actually owned one – which is where part of the inspiration for the song apparently came from: watching people interact with the gym mirrors.

Their own gym queeniness though was very much part of the novelty of their very gay looking novelty act – you had to hire muscle by the hour in London in 1991: pub culture not gym culture ruled back then, even in the gay world. London had not yet turned into a rainy version of Southern California with no parking spaces. Everyone smoked. Everyone drank like fishes. No one ate anything except crisps and chips and the occasional kebab. And no one had seen the inside of a gym since school – except for escorts and bouncers. The Fairbrass brothers looked like both, but even gayer. It’s why if they wore anything on stage apart from leather trousers it was just waistcoats. Really awful waistcoats.

And why I’m pretty sure I tried chatting one of them up in a gay pub in West London not long before their hit. The straight one of course. Fred or someone the spitting, salivating image of him actually was a bouncer back then, working on the door of the Penny Farthing in Hammersmith at the time. As I recall he was very patient and indulgent with me. And soon he would have a much bigger fan-base, some of whom would be even more annoying than me. I think he may have told me about being in a band and having recorded a single, but I can’t be sure because of the passage of time – and because I was anyway mightily distracted by his biceps.

The early nineties was an era when metropolitan male vanity – something celebrated and mocked but mostly, in spite of the lyrics, celebrated with ‘I’m Too Sexy’ – was just beginning to get into its stride in the UK. It was almost a soundtrack to my book about male narcissism and homoeroticism in a mediated world, Male Impersonators (which I wrote 92-93). ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was probably still ear-worming in my head in 1994 when I predicted, after attending an exhibition organised by GQ magazine called ‘It’s a Man’s World’, that the future was metrosexual.

True, the model of the song (‘I’m a model, you know what I mean’) and their little tush they shake on the catwalk, who is ‘too sexy for Milan’, their car, their cat, their hat, their love, their shirt and even the song, is gender non-specific at a time when models were generally assumed to be women. And the official story about the lyrics is that my short-lived imaginary boyfriend Fred was dating an American female model when the song was written. But the song was performed by the Fairbrass brothers. In leather trousers (sorry, I can’t stop mentioning them). And in 1991 London’s idea of a Chippendale body that was too sexy for their shirts.

In the promo the boys sashay topless on the catwalk and down the street followed by female pappers – a reversal of Duran Duran’s early 80s ‘Girls On Film’ moment, and also of course the usual clichés about the ‘male gaze’ (which wasn’t entirely new then, but a quarter of a century on some still think they are the first to subvert).

‘I’m Too Sexy’ started out satirising the fashion industry, but ended up massaging the muscles of male exhibitionism and narcissism – a noble cause the boy band Take That were to eagerly further evangelise later in the 1990s with their leather harness rent boy aesthetic. But ‘I’m Too Sexy’ for all its apparent silliness also turned out to be strangely prophetic about our 21st Century shirtless selfie-obsessed culture and the e-catwalk of Instagram – before most people even had a mobile phone, let alone one that could take really cool, app-filtered photos of their favourite gym changing room mirror. We’re all now way too sexy for not just our shirts but real life.

Which reminds me. Although they were kind of proto-spornos, the Fairbrass brothers’ bodies, which were glad-handled and devoured by the great British public’s eyes at the time as if we’d only just come off the meat ration, don’t look terribly ‘shredded’ to our much more jaded and judgey 2017 eyes. After all those back issues of Men’s Health/Fitness, and the ever-increasing refinement of what is supposed to be a ‘sexy’ male body, they look somewhat ‘watery’ – to use a technical term that only a handful of keen bodybuilders knew back then but probably your granny knows now. Were they eating clean? Were they doing enough cardio? Planking? And where’s the ink, bro?

But then, as someone who used to spend too much time hanging around gyms in London then, ‘watery’ was very much the look. I channelled it myself.

And yes, I did work as a bouncer for a while – just one of the so many things Fred and I had to talk about.

This month also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the surprise 1997 hit UK movie The Full Monty, about laid-off working class men in the (largely former) steel-making city of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, who decide to put together a male strip troupe to entertain the women that they used to provide for.

It was a serious (possibly overly-didactic) ‘crisis of masculinity’ movie which used male stripping as a visual metaphor for changing gender roles, particularly in the wake of 80s de-industrialisation. But it was also about male ‘sexiness’ as a kind of salvation. The whole point is that most of the guys are not vain, or conventionally sexy, or much wanted at all – and in fact have been dumped on the scrapheap of the late 20th Century.

But in learning how to act as if they were ‘too sexy’ – and move their hips to Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ – they have somehow re-skilled themselves for the brazen new world and century bearing down on them.

 

Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys

Someone simulating coitus behind you while you were potting a tricky black on the pool table was a popular part of the game. Grabbing one another’s lunchboxes as a form of greeting was another. Often this was accompanied with a loud John Inman/Dick Emery ‘OOOOH!!’ noise, which somehow proved that what you were doing was, in fact, totally and utterly straight.

Me in the Daily Telegraph contrasting my teenage school days with a new study showing how much ideas about masculinity have have changed amongst teenage boys today. And how masculinity isn’t in ‘crisis’, or ‘toxic’, or ‘hegemonic’, or ‘fragile’.

It’s turned out to be very flexible and adaptable – and likes a nice hug.

Read the piece in full here.

Spornosexual Steve Cook on the Meaning of Metrosexual

While prepping for my Barcelona lecture, ‘From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – a Permanent, Spectacular Masculine Revolution’, this video serendipitously popped up into MetroDaddy’s timeline on Twitter.

It’s an exploration of the meaning of being called ‘metrosexual’ by professional bodybuilder and popular online fitness guru Steve Cook, who has his own YouTube channel SwoldierNation where he offers workout tips, vlogs, and totally ‘hench’ eye candy to those who wanna be like him or just wanna be with him.

There’s a whole humpy army of these online fitness coaches/ exhibitionists today – and according to my buff and brainy Chilean stand-up chum Villouta, they are making Men’s Health magazine look lame.

Like most of these YouTube heroes, Cook is an aesthetic/physique bodybuilder – that is, one that aims to look hot rather than HUGE. Horny rather than Arnie. Cover model rather than Rambo. He is out and proud about his metrosexuality, and says he’s been called metrosexual since high school – though not always in a positive fashion. In the vlog he rather touchingly shares with us his extensive product stash.

He also gets a pedicure, enjoys the comfy pink ‘girly’ chairs and then confronts some rather terrified looking mall-goers about what they understand ‘metrosexual’ to mean. I suspect they were as intimidated by his preposterously good looks, awesome body and self-confidence as much as the questions. I think I would have fainted.

Reading between the lines, Cook seems keen to emphasise that ‘metrosexual’ doesn’t mean ‘non heterosexual’ (he’s a married, hetero father). But then he does live in America, a country which since the early Naughties has had regular nervous breakdowns about the possible ambiguity of metrosexuality – hence those very American reaction-formations ‘machosexual’, ‘ubersexual’, ‘heteropolitan’ and ‘lumbersexual’. Which were in some ways oddly ‘gayer’ than what they were trying to run away from.

So kudos to Mr Cook for refusing to run away from the ‘metro’ tag and having the cojones to embrace and pamper it instead.

Of course, Cook who was born in 1984, is more of a second generation metrosexual – that’s to say, spornosexual. He has fashioned his own body into the ultimate accessory and hot commodity. A product. A brand.

And I for one am certainly buying. Even if he isn’t so great at research. He doesn’t seem to know who his ‘daddy’ is….

As ever, though the Brits are ahead of the curve, and more relaxed about the gay thing – even if their abs aren’t always Olympian standard. The short but charming video below by Jenny Wotherspoon (accompanying an excellent piece on spornosexuals by Theo Merz in The Daily Telegraph) is comprised of interviews with self-confessed spornosexuals from Newcastle, North East England – who aren’t ashamed of their love of lycra, or much bothered their own, more traditionally-minded parents keep asking them ‘are you sure you’re not gay?’.

Hollywood Gayze

Mark Simpson on Hollywood heartthrobs going ‘gayish’ 

The appearance of Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike XXL bun-chums Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez on a float at LA Pride shaking their money-makers for the highly appreciative LGBT crowd seems to have marked a watershed moment in the City of Signs.

Not long after Tatum’s float disappeared into the heat haze of Santa Monica Boulevard the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece by Merle Ginsberg, formerly of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about the way straight male performers like Tatum have gone ‘beyond metrosexuality’ (characterised by the HR as ‘indulging in feminine-seeming pedicures and hair products’) and now want to be read as ‘gayish’.

Ginsberg argued that far from being frightened of  gay attention and gay ‘taint’ as in days of yore, straight men these days actively – or is it passively? – seek out, tickle and tease the male gayze on Pride floats and Out magazine covers, and by talking about which other male actor they’d do if they did guys. The piece also looked at how this phenomenon of furiously flirty ‘straight homos’ – or ‘stromos’ as it was dubbed – is blurring the lines of sexuality and jamming gaydar.

Obviously this is a subject right up my proclivity. And sure enough I found myself  quoted in the piece – but couldn’t quite remember when I’d given them. I searched my Inbox and found that I’d answered questions from Ginsberg about this phenomenon of straight male ‘gayness’ by email back in 2013. I guess even two years ago I’m still so now.

However the Hollywood Reporter piece seems to have ruffled a few gay feathers eliciting complaints about ‘gay stereotypes’ and ‘exploitation’. While it’s not really for me to defend the word ‘stromo’ – I’ve enough annoying neologisms of my own to look out for – the phenomenon that the article is about is definitely worth anatomising and certainly not ‘made up’ as some claim, offended ostrich-like.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I think the only problem with the Hollywood Reporter piece was that I wasn’t quoted enough – particularly since the article strives to delineate a difference between ‘stromos’ and ‘metrosexuals’ which seems to be based more on an American marketing definition of metrosexuality than mine.

So here are the answers metrodaddy gave in full. (Note the bit towards the end where I say the increasing incoherence of what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is troubling for traditionalists – straight and gay.)

MS: I agree that metrosexuality has morphed – though I would say it has always been morphing and that really it’s intensified. Metrosexuality was never about facials and flip flops it was about the male desire to be desired – which is rampant nowadays. Today’s men are totally tarty. And shameless hussies with it. Male self-objectification is very much the name of today’s game.

Funnily enough, I think this presents a problem for male celebs in general and movie actors in particular. Now that the young str8 male movie-going audience are so image conscious and so keen to attract the eye, the man on the screen has to go the extra mile – and get up even earlier for even longer, harder workouts. Likewise as their audience becomes ‘gayer’, they have to become even gayer or else end up looking Dad-ish. They have to push the envelope further and try harder than their male fans, or the boyfriends of their female fans, or else why should they be in the spotlight?

MG: What do you think of these actors/singers (Adam Levine) who look and dress and even move in a rather gay way? Is this the new masculinity?

Adam Levine looks and sounds like a singing David Beckham. With a bit of Marc Jacobs thrown in. But then Beckham is a kind of non-singing pop star.

What’s happening is that a kind of male bi-sensuality is becoming more and more the norm, both with young men and particularly with male performers, appropriating tastes and manners sensibilities and sensitivities that were previously preserved for women and gay men – on pain of emasculation and ridicule.

Men increasingly want to present themselves as available for any fantasy, and responsive to both sexes – even and especially when they’re heterosexual. It’s a useful strategy for a ‘civilian’ in today’s mediatised, mirrored world, but it’s an essential one if you’re a performer.

Is this possibly due to a further acceptance of gay culture in general? How did that happen over time?

It’s partly due to a greater acceptance of gay culture. If homophobia is uncool, as it is for most young people in the US or UK today, then fear of ‘gay’ things also, eventually, becomes uncool.

But I would almost put it the other way around, homophobia has declined because today’s men are less afraid of themselves than they used to be. Today’s straight men enjoy most of the same sexual practises as gay men, though usually with someone with a vagina, and have embraced gay men’s love of the male body too – though usually their own body. Likewise, male passivity is much less of a taboo than it was. The itchy throb of the prostate gland is no respecter of sexual orientation.

Why would a gay magazine put a straight guy on the cover? Why would a straight guy do it?

Gay magazines put straight men on the cover because a) Their readers, however much they may deny it sometimes, really like to look at hot straight guys, and b) it gets them press: ‘You’ll never guess who’s in his pants on the cover of OUT magazine this month!!’. A gay guy on the cover of a gay magazine is not news. Of course, straight guys on the cover of gay magazines is hardly news anymore now that they’re all scratching each other’s eyes out to get there…. Another reason why gay magazines do it is because it helps to make homophobia even un-cooler.

Why do straight celebs and sportsmen do it? Because: a) They get publicity, and b) They get kudos, and c), probably the most important, straight men nowadays love to be ‘gay icons’.

There is money and career points in having a ‘gay following’, to be sure, but I think the need for gay male approval goes deeper and is shared by a lot of young straight men today. It’s that desire to be desired thing again. Straight men ache to be sex objects – and what better way to be objectified than by other men? Straight men know how demanding men’s eyes can be. How penetrating their ‘gaze’ is.

Even if you have no desire to ever have sex with another guy there’s nothing quite so symbolically, deliciously ‘passive’ as being oggled by other penised human beings.

Is it confusing that we can’t tell who’s straight or who’s gay anymore? Is this a good thing?

It is very confusing. But confusion can be a good and liberating thing.

I think we’ve reached a point where straight men are so ‘gay’ nowadays that they’ve actually become ‘straight acting’. Those beards that gays started wearing back in the early Noughties to butch up have been adopted wholesale by a lot of straight guys in the last few years, and for similar reasons. The decorative, imitative machismo of the gay world has become the ‘real’ thing.

Likewise, the pleasuring and pleasured pneumatic porno male body that Tom of Finland was doodling from his overheated imagination back in the 50s and 60s has become the dominant mainstream fantasy. The Situation and his reality TV ‘bros’ have Tom-ish bodies that invite and plead for the gayze.

But of course the bigger picture is that what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is really breaking down into incoherence. Which is troubling for both straight and gay traditionalists. While you might think that gay men would all welcome this glorious confusion some do find it very disconcerting. And no one likes to be upstaged.

But in the end, the total triumph of metrosexuality and male tartiness, terrifying as it is, should probably be seen as a liberation for straight men – and a bloody relief for gay men. After all, they no longer have to embody all the vanity and tartiness of their entire sex just to keep straight men ‘normal’.

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.